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Pasco bailiff recalls 34-year law enforcement career as he retires

DADE CITY — Dealing with her drug-addicted mother, the young woman was at her wits' end.

Near tears, she left the courtroom. The bailiff followed and found her in the lobby. His blue eyes stared intently into hers as the two stood face to face.

"The longer she's in jail, the longer she has to dry out," he said. "You're a good girl. She's put you through hell."

The two exchanged hugs.

"I've known her since she was 7," the bailiff explained to a reporter standing nearby.

That's not unusual behavior for Robert Miller, a veteran cop who has helped keep order in the Dade City courthouse since 2007.

The law enforcement veteran, who retired Friday after more than three decades, is known for his ability to relate to everyone, from victims and prosecutors to defense attorneys and hardened criminals as he helps clear a busy docket.

"They're human beings," Miller said of those who break the law. He said a man he had once arrested defended him when he went to quell a bar fight. "He stood up against my back and he said 'I'm not going to let anybody hit you.'"

"He has always shown extreme professionalism," said Phil Matthey, an assistant state attorney. "And he is always able to lighten the moment when we need it at the appropriate times."

Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa praised Miller's "professional diligence" in helping move things along, but he also said he respects Miller's ways with people.

When a defendant's problems at home follow military service in Afghanistan or Iraq, Siracusa makes sure they get some face time with the 57-year-old Miller, a former sergeant in the Army 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam War. Being injured by a mortar round earned him a Purple Heart.

"He understands what they've been through," Siracusa said.

Miller can indeed relate. He described himself as a "problem child," a high school drop-out who was often defiant and disrespectful.

A drill sergeant fixed all that.

After Miller's service ended, he attended then-St. Petersburg Junior College for about a year before joining the Tarpon Springs Police Department in 1978. He worked with the canine unit a year before moving to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

"I've served under six sheriffs," he said, naming them all. He liked each one, he said, but his favorite was Jim Gillum, who served from 1984 to 1992. Despite some ethical problems, he said, Gillum was a good cop.

"He was a cop's cop," Miller said.

During his time at the Sheriff's Office, Miller worked in a host of jobs, from dog handler to field training officer to property crime detective. He also coordinated training programs and worked as a detective in the agricultural crimes division.

"I never regretted being a cop," he said.

An incident early in his career could easily have ended it.

In 1982, Miller was arresting a suspected drunken driver near the parking lot of a Dade City bar when another man opened fire. He shot at Miller three times before the deputy was able to subdue him and call for backup. Amid all the chaos, a sheriff's dog that was sent to help control potentially hostile bar patrons ended up attacking Miller. The dog, which was on a 13-foot "riot lead," clamped down on Miller's forearm and left wrist.

"That hurt so bad," said Miller, who was treated for blood poisoning and still has some numbness. Sheriff's deputies didn't get awards for injuries back then. But when a supervisor learned about it last year, Miller got a Purple Heart award, almost 30 years after the incident.

"Bobby waited a long time for his deserved Purple Heart and we were honored to present it to him," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said. "He has had a tremendous career and has kept a positive attitude throughout it."

Miller also has seen his share of emotional pain. He recalled the murder of his longtime friend Charles "Bo" Harrison, a sheriff's lieutenant who was shot to death in 2003 outside a Trilacoochee bar by a teenager Harrison had once coached in youth sports.

"I had lunch with Bo the day he died," Miller said, his eyes welling with tears. He said Harrison talked about his retirement, which was to happen in about two weeks. Miller said he urged Harrison to stay off the streets.

"He laughed," Miller recalled. "He said 'I've got to get out with my boys.' "

Miller said he's seen the legal system change since he first donned a uniform. Criminals have all the rights, making it harder for police to bring them to justice.

"Cops' hands are tied," he said.

He's also concerned by an increase in "sovereign citizens," people who claim to be above the law. He cites cases where law enforcement officials have lost their lives dealing with such people.

He also has harsh words for lawmakers, who have enacted cutbacks in pensions for state employees. Such measures, he predicts, will mean fewer talented men and women will choose careers in law enforcement.

"Would you want to put your life on the line for a 401(k)?" he said.

Still, Miller remains upbeat.

He plans to move to another state — he won't say where — and work on his tree farm. He promises to visit and sneak back into court to make sure things are running smoothly.

"I'm sad but excited at the same time," he said. "This is my life."

Pasco bailiff recalls 34-year law enforcement career as he retires 12/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 7:44pm]
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